The Rainmaker
August 1, 2005 8:56 PM   Subscribe

The Rainmaker
After three long years of drought, a desperate San Diego City council, sought out a man who had been creating rain from Central America to the Yukon, a rainmaker who could bring clouds, fill dams and douse fires. For $10,000, Charles Hatfield agreed to make rain. Soon after, on January 5, 1916, it started raining and raining...and raining. So much water fell from the sky that two dams overflowed. One dam broke, unleashing floods and devastation. Instead of gratitude, the city council threatened to sue Hatfield who in the end was saved by a court ruling that deemed rain to be "an act of God."
Hatfield claimed to have invented a chemical formula to summon clouds and was credited with over 500 successes. He took his rain-making secrets to the grave. Hollywood, of course, produced a movie.
posted by vacapinta (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My grandmother told me about that. They refused to pay him because they said they asked for rain, "not a flood."
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:27 PM on August 1, 2005

...and Broadway made a musical out of that movie, from the guys who previously did the music and lyrics for The Fanstasticks.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:16 PM on August 1, 2005

Um, to my memory, the linked movie has very little to do with Charles Hatfield. The movie is set at a farm outside of a small town in summer rather than San Diego in winter, and the title character is an admitted fake who took up rainmaking after selling tornado warding devices.

The movie and preceeding stage play was probably based on a wide variety of people who claimed to be rainmakers. In fact, the plot of the movie actually has very little to do with rainmaking or weather, other than as a pretense to get a dashing huckster to roll into a stagnant and suffering town in order to shake things up and romance the willful, cold, and extremely intelligent heroine. This is a formula that would be repeated with enormous success as The Music Man a few years later.

Asparagirl: ...and Broadway made a musical out of that movie, from the guys who previously did the music and lyrics for The Fanstasticks.

Broadway can make a surprisingly good musical out of Sweeny Todd, they can (and probably will) make a musical out of anything. But the musical seems to have had a better run than the original stage production.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:30 PM on August 1, 2005

There also appears to be this one, made for TV. Looks like a story that is ripe for a Hollywood remake, except this time he summons aliens down to earth along with the rain, and then there are lots of explosions, then a love-making scene, and more explosions.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:38 PM on August 1, 2005

Loosely based on Hatfield is what I got from various sources. As well, Hatfield was invited to the movie's premiere.
posted by vacapinta at 10:40 PM on August 1, 2005

vacapinta: Loosely based on Hatfield is what I got from various sources. As well, Hatfield was invited to the movie's premiere.

I think the qualifying phrase is perhaps, "very loosely based." Or "extremely loosely based." And someone would give a premire invitation to a cocker spaniel with poor bladder control if they felt they could get a publicity hook out of it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:55 PM on August 1, 2005

I just don't want people to rent The Rainmaker thinking it's some sort of a biopic or a historic fiction about some actual event involving Hatfield. There probably is a bit of Hatfield in Starbuck, but I think it's probably a bad idea to equate the two.

Night and Day is loosely based on the life of Cole Porter. He was born in Indiana, went to Harvard, went to France, made some musicals, made some movies, and had his legs crushed in a riding accident. Of course, everything in between is just propaganda. The Rainmaker is loosely based on a standard Broadway formula and Starbuck exists to fill the needs of that formula. Granted, it fills that formula very well, but its still very much a formula piece with not much concern for biography or history.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:13 PM on August 1, 2005

Hatfield is well known, but not so many people have heard of George Ambrosius Immanuel Morrison Sykes (from California, naturally), a self-styled minister of Zoroastrianism 75 years ago and owner of a series of contraptions he claimed could control the weather. I wrote an article about him for the June-July 1986 American Heritage special issue on weather (sorry, not on-line that I can find, but maybe in your library if you're interested).

It's a great story (the facts, not particularly my writing). In September 1930, New York's Belmont track was hosting a 15-day meeting that included two huge races (one featuring the Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox; the other with a $125,000 purse, highest in the world at the time). They wanted clear skies, which Sykes said he could provide, so the owners hired him, saying they'd pay $1000 for every day it didn't rain during the weeks, and $2500 for the two big Saturday events. On the other hand, every day it did rain, he had to pay the track $2000.

It rained hard the second day, so Sykes was already $1000 in the hole, but then for over a week it was clear every day, including the race Gallant Fox won to become the richest race horse in American history. Sykes was up almost $5000, but he got irked at reporters who said the good weather was just a coincidence, and vowed that he'd make it rain, bring down a fierce thunderstorm to show off his powers.

"Could you wait till Monday?" track officials asked, i.e. after the second big weekend meet was over, and Sykes agreed, scheduling it for between 2:30 and 4:30p. And when it never happened, he slipped out of town quietly, up $7500 (about $81,000 today). Not bad for a few weeks worth of work.

In a p.s. to the story, it turned out that maybe he couldn't control his Monday afternoon thunderstorm because of those pesky reporters. Annoyed because Sykes wouldn't let them anywhere near his 'weather control' devices, they lured him away one afternoon with a fake phone call, saying it was urgent, and he forgot to lock his equipment shack. One reporter went inside while Sykes was gone and, draining his storage battery that powered everything, filled it with a pail of clam chowder.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:32 AM on August 2, 2005

The history of rainmaking would not be complete without a word or two about Wilhelm Reich, Orgonon, and Cloudbusters.
posted by anastasiav at 5:05 AM on August 2, 2005

this might not win best post, but it's a DAMNED fine thread. Thanks all who know about the making of rain.
posted by zpousman at 6:51 AM on August 2, 2005

That Cloudbusters link is really quite good.
posted by OmieWise at 6:54 AM on August 2, 2005

Hatfield.... He made it rain for L.A...

posted by afroblanca at 7:15 AM on August 2, 2005

(The musical had a longer initial run, but the stage play has had much more success in the long term. I've seen several productions of "The Rainmaker", which is, if not exactly a staple, performed with relative frequency during the summer season at community theaters all across the country. When was the last time you saw a production of "110 In The Shade"?)
posted by kyrademon at 12:55 AM on August 3, 2005

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